ROGERS PARK — Col. Jennifer Pritzker's crews were tearing down the Sheridan Road mansion that once housed the Shambhala Meditation Center Monday morning, despite advocates' efforts to save the building.
In its place, Pritzker plans to build a 250-car parking garage to ease parking woes near her other Rogers Park developments, the Emil Bach House, the Cat's Cradle Bed and Breakfast and the Farcroft by the Lake Apartments — all just a two blocks to the north.
Some neighbors have been fighting for months to block the plan, which required a zoning change and two setback variances, and will eventually need approval from the Chicago Plan Commission because of the structure's proximity to the lakefront.
"It's just going to be, for me, a real tragedy for the elderly," said David Watkins, 68, who lives in the Levy House directly to the east of the former Shambhala Meditation Center. "Everyone in this building here is elderly."
Watkins said Saturday that he worried about crossing in front of cars coming in and out of the garage. Pritzker's company has proposed safety features, such as a buzzer and motion detector, on the garage's entrance and exit.
Work began Friday to raze the home, and it should take two to three days to demolish it, according to a letter sent to Ald. Joe Moore (49th) from Sean McGowan, the chief operating officer of Tawani Enterprises, manager of Pritzker's real estate holdings.
A demolition permit was issued on Sept. 18 "to wreck and remove a two-story brick residence," said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city's Building Department.
People who have protested against the parking garage and the demolition of what they call a historically significant building vowed to continue fighting Pritzker's plan.
"It isn’t over 'til it’s over," said resident Don Gordon late last month after the city's Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-1 to allow the garage to be built 1 foot away from a public sidewalk and a man's two-car garage.
But others, like Watkins, said there's nothing else they can do to stop it.
"If they went this far," he said, "it's done."
In March, the meditation center moved to 31 N. Carpenter, the former location of a shop owned by Oprah Winfrey near her Near West Side studio.